‘Two hundred Euros. TWO – HUNDRED – EUROS’ was my initial response on hearing the entry fee for the newly created world championships of solo mountain bike racing to be held in Italy. ‘It had better be a bloody good t-shirt for that price’ was my follow up response. After some cajoling from the wife, I parted with the money and set about thinking about how the hell I would prepare for it.
Now organising yourself for a 24 hour race in this country is hard enough, but sorting yourself out for a race in another country as well as combining it with a family holiday was going to be a challenge. The closer it came to the race, the more things I realised we had to sort and the more money we had to spend (there’s a theme starting here). Anyway, after all the organising was done and five months of hard training was in the bank, we found ourselves on the Italian Riviera, filled up with pasta and ready to compete in the biggest race of our lives. By ‘we’, I refer to me and my Team JMC team mates, Jase and Dave. In fact, it was Jase’ fault we were here as he won entry into the competition by being the overall winner of Relentless 24 2011 and talked us into joining him!
On to the race. The course was high up in the hills above the coastal town of Finale Ligure and was approximately 11 mile long with about 400m of climbing per lap. Me and Dave had the chance of a reccie of half of the course the day before the race and were surprised with how technical the route was. Lots of tight, twisty singletrack, short sharp ascents and no places to feed – it was going to be brutal. The weather report wasn’t looking good either. After a winter and spring of rubbish weather, we were hoping for some well earned sun and warm temperatures. Not a chance, with heavy rain, thunder and lightning forecast for most of the race – bugger!
I had taken two bikes over with me – a new On-One Carbon Lurcher and a modified On-One titanium Inbred. Both were 29ers and I had decided to ride both with front suspension. I knew how the Inbred would perform as I had raced it for the last couple of years. However, I had only built up the new Lurcher the week before and hadn’t yet had the chance to give it a good thrashing.
So race day came, we’d hired a gazebo and had a surprisingly well stocked pit considering we’d flew over. We had the usual last minute faff and fettling of bikes and then we all nervously waited on the start line for the off. There was a short run to start, which had no effect on stringing out the field. I got through the melee safely and was off on the first lap. The twisty course helped slow everyone down, so I wasn’t going into the red, which made a change for the start of a race. There were lots of sharpened elbows out and jostling for position but after a couple of miles things settled down. I reckoned I was in the top thirty but it was hard to tell. No idea whether Jase or Dave were in front or behind me.
The first lap was over very quick and I passed through the pits without stopping. The course was split into two completely different sections. The first half was the twisty, brutal singletrack, with the second half containing more gradual climbs and some awesome downhill sections. I much preferred the latter and so did my back!
The rain that had been threatening since the race started, never happened and we were treated to some lovely sunshine and amazing views of the coast. The race was also going to plan. Legs were feeling fine, back pain was excruciating (it always is!),I was keeping just within threshold with no-one overtaking me (apart from Jase after about 4 or 5 hours) and I started to pick off some riders who had clearly gone off too fast. After about six hours I was told by the pit that Jase was 10th, I was 11th and Dave was 13th. Good stuff, although I knew Dave was struggling but was not sure what was wrong with him.
I cracked on and was starting to really enjoy the course and the new On-One Lurcher that I was riding. If you want a bike that just wants to go fast uphill and even faster downhill, then this is the bike for you. It’s a monster and it was sucking up this brutal course with ease! The laps were clocking up and we entered the night period of the race. After the Strathpuffer, 8 hours of darkness seemed pretty short and before I knew it, the light appeared and I had got through the night without any mishaps. I had no idea how many laps I had done at this point, but was told that I had crept up to 7th and Jase had moved up to 5th. Dave hadn’t fared well. He hadn’t been well in the first part of the race and had a bad fall making things worse. He had dropped down to 16th but was still keeping going.
We were about 16 hours in and I was still feeling pretty good considering how hard the course was. I had managed to keep feeding and drinking regularly, which at times was the last thing I wanted to do. I had some salty pasta, which was a welcome change to the gels and bars and started on the caffeine to keep me going. As I don’t drink tea or coffee, I struggle with caffeine consumption during races. Caffeine gels just make me sick and I don’t fancy caffeine tablets. So I made do with quick swigs of tea and some bottled coke.
Moving into the last quarter of the race was when I started to struggle. I had never pushed myself this hard in a race before and my body was now starting to scream. Up to this point, I had only stopped in the pits to change bottles, wolf the pasta down and apply some chamois cream. My mind started to tell me to stop for a while, but I knew I would lose a place if I did. I pushed on and every lap felt twice as long as the earlier laps. Jase by now had moved up to second place, which was incredible. However, it wasn’t too much a surprise as I know how strong he is from the all the training we do together. Dave had also got a second wind, had the bit between his teeth and was now flying up the leader board.
I just kept on going, keeping as fast pace as I could manage but keeping it steady on the harder climbs. Slowly the laps ticked by and the end was in sight. I had closed the gap on the place above me to 6 minutes, so for the last couple of laps tried to increase the pace to see if I could climb another position. I’d manage a quicker pace for about 5 minutes then suffer for the next 10, so that wasn’t going to happen! I had the usual euphoria of doing the last lap and set a good lap time but this made no difference as the guy above me did the same and we finished six minutes apart.
I had completed 20 laps of the course and my final position was 6th in the Elite class and 7th overall. I was over the moon as my target for the race was to squeeze in the top twenty! Jase has finished in 2nd which was amazing and I was proud to be his team mate. Dave had put in an amazing effort for the last quarter of the race and had climbed from 16th to 8th overall but suffered at the end with an almighty BONK.
Overall, some impressive results. 3 Team JMC riders in the top ten and we all won some prize money – which was nice. Overall, there were 4 British riders in the top ten of the men’s category (well done Craig Bowles for his well earned 3rd place) and 2 British riders in the top ten of the women’s category (well done Rickie Cotter with 2nd place and Jane Chadwick with 9th overall). So a bloody good effort all round.
The rain and thunder storms really kicked in after the race which meant only one thing – staying inside and eating and drinking for England!!
I need to say a big thank you to our pit crew Michael, Angela, Debs, Jaqs and all the kids. They were incredible and I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this result without them. Also a big thank you to On-One for supplying the Lurcher (buy one – they’re ace!) and USE Exposure for the loan of some amazing lights.